Growing up in Springfield, MA, Ellie Walsh dreamed of moving to New York City and becoming a dancer.
Her father had a more practical suggestion. After a recommendation from a high school teacher, he encouraged her to check out Bryant College, where she could pursue her interest in retail marketing. Recalling her first visit to the Providence campus, Ellie liked that “the dorms were old mansions, with fireplaces and big wooden staircases. It was charming. Right away, I felt like I belonged there.”
“When I saw the facilities, the curriculum, the opportunities that students had—particularly for women—I realized that I attended Bryant 50 years too early. I wanted to go back to school."
But in 1958, not everyone agreed that a young woman belonged in the marketing department of a business college. In those days, she said, women were encouraged to attend schools for secretarial science. Ellie was undeterred. Registering for classes at Bryant, she found herself among hundreds of men and just two other women. “We looked at each other and said, 'Well, we’ll just consider it a challenge.'”
That challenge helped her grow and build leadership skills, preparing her for the male-dominated business environment she entered when she graduated in 1961. “Doing well at Bryant, competing with men as an equal, gave me confidence that I could go out there and do it again.” Her career path included working in statistics for a business forms company. She became a buyer at a department store, then worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines. When she married a Navy officer and moved to San Diego, she found work as an administrative assistant at ABM Industries, but she wasn’t certain it was the right position for her. “I thought, 'Now I have start typing all over again, with this degree in my back pocket.'” After several promotions and a long and successful career, she retired 41 years later as a vice president. “So, I guess Bryant taught me something!” she says, laughing.
“Doing well at Bryant, competing with men as an equal, gave me confidence that I could go out there and do it again.”
Her gratitude for Bryant’s impact on her life led to her recent decision to include the University in her estate plan, a generous gift that also reflects her excitement to be part of a Bryant she never knew as a student. Visiting the Smithfield campus for the first time, she was amazed. “When I saw the facilities, the curriculum, the opportunities that students had—particularly for women—I realized that I attended Bryant 50 years too early. I wanted to go back to school. I was jealous!”
Ellie has become actively involved with Bryant since moving back to Massachusetts from California several years ago, and now serves on the National Alumni Council.
She considers herself very fortunate to have attended Bryant and wants to help ensure that today’s Bryant students can graduate, as she did, without the burden of excessive student loan debt. “I can’t imagine having to face that when trying to find my first job. These bright students should be given the chance to go out and do great things.”
She also hopes her estate gift inspires her fellow alumni to join her and leave a lasting legacy of opportunity. “You don’t have to be a millionaire and you don’t have to leave a fortune. If everyone just gave what they could, it would make a big difference.”